By Sara Sutterfield
Wilkeson and Tenino’s sisterly spat over sandstone might already be over for the year — though the war, as they say, is not won.
The two towns are famous, at least in some circles, for their sandstone, and this year, lawmakers representing both areas submitted bills to get their sandstone as the official state stone.
Supporting Tenino was Reps. Peter Abbarno and Sam Low, who introduced House Bill 1977 on Jan. 8.
“I’ve done numerous tours not just with the quarry for Tenino sandstone but with the Tenino Stone Carvers who are an important part of the history and tradition of – not just the state – but the local community and here at the Capitol,” Abbarno shared during a Jan. 19 interview.
Tenino sandstone represents Washington state at the Washington Monument in D.C. Additionally, Tenino sandstone is present in various portions of the state capitol, and workers from the Hercules Company from Tenino were tasked with repairing buildings with their product after the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.
In response, Sens. Phil Fortunato and T’wina Nobles introduced Senate Bill 6117 two days later, requesting that Wilkeson be given the honors. Fortunato boasted that the capitol’s dome and the legislative building exterior is made of Wilkeson stone, and a decorative cornerstone at the Temple of Justice also hails from the east Pierce County quarry.
In fact, back in 2019, Wilkeson discovered an unpaid bill from the 1920s for just about $55,000 for its sandstone. With inflation, Wilkeson Mayor Jeff Sellers said at the time, the bill came out to more than $5 million; he said the town would be willing to call it even if the state put up a plaque recognizing the city and its quarries for their contribution. It’s unclear if the bill was ever paid, but there remains no plaque at the capitol.
To the layman, there may seem to be little differences between Wilkeson and Tenino sandstone.
Experts have said Wilkeson’s stone is denser than Tenino’s, and is also whiter and more waterproof.
However, Tenino’s sandstone has refractory qualities that Wilkeson’s does not have, and “I believe there is a little bit of magnesium in Tenino and that gives it a quality to absorb heat at a slower rate,” said Scott Hackney, owner of the Hercules No. 1 quarry in Tenino.
The state stone contest between Wilkeson and Tenino appears to be at least a decade old, but how many times battles have been fought is unclear.
“We’ve tried getting named the state stone a few times before, and each time someone from Wilkeson does this,” Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier commented on social media last month.
However, the only other attempt from Tenino to get their stone recognized appears to be in 2011, which, despite a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections majority, died in the Rules Committee, despite it being reintroduced five more times. There did not seem to have been an opposing bill supporting Wilkeson during that biennium.
Though both bills are dead, Fortunato said he’s going to keep pushing the bill until the session is over.
“My mission is to find a bill that did get a hearing… that we might be able to amend [it] onto,” he said.
If that doesn’t work, Fortunato added, he hopes a Wilkeson sandstone display at the capitol, will garner legislative support for a future bill.
Abbarno did not return requests for comment on whether he is also trying to get the Tenino bill amended to another.
Although the two bills are dichotomous, players on both sides would be just as happy to see sandstone as the state stone, without specifying a particular quarry.
“Let’s bring Wilkeson and Tenino both into the forefront,” Hackney said. “They’re neighbors. They’re co-stones. They both have great stories to tell. I love both equally… I just happen to own the Tenino quarry.”
And while Wilkeson Mayor Jeff Sellers said he believes Wilkeson’s sandstone is superior, “if they came out and said that sandstone is the state stone… at least that way, both places are covered.”
To show your support for either bill, you can contact Fortunato at email@example.com or Abbano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WA CAN’T SETTLE ON A STONE
Throughout the years, no settling has occurred on an official state rock.
In 1967, a state bill proposed granite, though it seems there’s wasn’t enough heat in the legislature to get the bill to pass.
Another bill in 1975, pushed by senior citizens, would have awarded the title to petrified wood. However, sometime later, petrified wood became the state gem, instead.
And then, in 2001, Baker Middle School students in Tacoma, WA, urged their representative to propose obsidian as the state rock, but the bill again couldn’t cut it.
Editor Ray Miller-Still contributed to this article.